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Willow Den raises funds to expand outdoor nurseries

Deborah Grant: ‘growing demand’

A start-up social enterprise has secured £725,000 to launch a chain of outdoor nurseries across Scotland.

Willow Den – a trading subsidiary of Inspiring Scotland – will offer early learning childcare in exclusively outdoor settings for three to five year olds.

The Edinburgh-based enterprise will launch its first site in partnership with Spartans Community Football Academy in August with capacity for up to 24 children per day.

The funding package includes £225,000 loan funding from Social Investment Scotland matched by a £225,000 grant from the SIS Growth Challenge, with the remainder comprising patient capital from Willow Den’s founder, Inspiring Scotland, and a pool of private investors.  

Willow Den plans to operate across Scotland, including in deprived communities, with ambitions to expand from one nursery this year to eight by 2026, delivering services for up to 200 children and creating 30 jobs.

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The announcement follows a difficult year. Research showed that only 50% of nurseries were sure they would re-open after lockdown with one in seven expecting to stay closed.

Those capacity issues are further exacerbated by an increase in funded hours of Early Learning and Childcare for 3–4 year-olds.

The sector is lagging behind indoor facilities with just 31 outdoor settings (31%) in Scotland among 2,500 nurseries in total.

Willow Den is led by CEO Deborah Grant who was appointed in late 2020 and has 25 years’ experience working in childcare and social enterprise.

Chris Jamieson, head of investments at SIS, said: “Willow Den is launching into an attractive market, with an increase in funded nursery places and a current lack of capacity.”

Ms Grant said: “With funded childcare hours doubling from August, and Covid-19 continuing to impact children’s health and wellbeing, there is growing demand for increased access to outdoor nurseries across Scotland.

“Our aim is to help to meet this demand and support the wider outdoor learning movement to gain traction by increasing the number of outdoor early learning and childcare nurseries across the country.”



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